Mark KalchHave you ever taken two weeks for an adventure for yourself or with your family?
Are you convinced that you can’t do it?

I have been on a river before and was awed by its power and beauty during a rafting trip two years ago. I did this trip with my son and it was unforgettable. I lied about his age to the river rafting company and, although I didn’t fear for our lives, there were parts of the river that I was nervous having him on the boat with me due to the river being very rough.

It pushed my boundaries about what I wanted to expose my son to. We ended up having tremendous fun and spending wonderful quality time together.

Meet one of the Top 50 Adventurers in the world according to Men’s Journal.

Mark is a world renowned expedition paddler and explorer and he has a powerful story he shared about kayaking the entire length of the Amazon, Mississippi, Volga River (Europe’s largest river) and walking across Iran.

My hope is that this interview will spur you on to try your own personal adventure or one with your family.

We covered a wide range of topics that will help you:

  1. The benefits of a two week River Adventure for busy people, executives, etc
  2. How to deal with voices telling you to quit
  3. How you can translate river adventures into the boardroom
  4. Kids and paddle boarding in Patagonia
  5. Family adventures on a river in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Canada, Alaska  Options like: River camping, floating, fishing
  6. Why being on a river is a form of medicine
  7. Taking advantage of National Parks in the US
  8. The Russian people and the Volga River
  9. Importance of “disconnected” time with family
  10. How the heck was Mark able to walk across Iran? And what was it like to do this

Mark’s Bio

Mark Kalch is at the apex of river adventures. He is right in the middle of an epic quest called 7 Rivers 7 Continents. So far, Mark in this quest has done the following:

Some of the areas worth reading are listed below. If you are interested in listening to the podcast episode in entirety you can find access links to the episode below.

Two Weeks – Take Two Weeks to Explore with the Family on a River

BILL MURPHY: 27:22 Well I think, so some of the audience are, the audience listening to this are just traditional business executives and I often find, just in talking to you, if you had a hundred ladies and gentlemen in a room, that are just sort of living their normal lives and sort of having their regular vacation each year, with their kids and they had the opportunity to spend a couple of days, a week, maybe two weeks doing something that was interesting either culturally, just as you explained, or a river expedition or something, a hike somewhere. What would you say to this group of hundred in order to get them started?

MARK KALCH: 28:02 I think first of all, you know… the benefit of it you could wrangle two weeks away, you know… I understand if people are in a hectic business environment and are getting two weeks away from work, it’s sometimes tough. But, you know… if you can swing a few things, then maybe two weeks is a good chunk of time and certainly I think, I can picture it now, what I would personally do… you know. Certainly if I was in the US, in the US you guys have such an abundance of rivers and such an abundance of wild rivers. So, being able to find two weeks, the first thing that I would do is to look into an outfitter that offers these sort of journeys and it could be from somewhere quite well known…. you know, maybe the Colorado river or something like this, you know. But, equally there is a lot of other rivers in North America, in the US and in Canada and in Alaska, US, that you can go on and certainly, there are outfitters that will sort the whole thing out for you. You bring all your personal gear and then you go, you float for two weeks and if it’s just yourself and maybe your friends or some guys from work then… you know, you can do rivers that maybe have a higher degree of difficulty. Equally, if it’s you and the kids or you and the whole rest of the family, equally you can float a river that has minimal white water but, for those two weeks or week or whatever. You’re camping by the side of this river, you’re fishing, you’re floating down this river… you know at night, you’re looking up at a billion stars and you know to me … the worth… I see it as, medicine or something like that. But, what you get from that week or two weeks away from I guess the traditional sort of work environment. The benefits are immeasurable, you know… for me I think, if you did work for the first five and a half months of the year and then took two weeks to go off and do a really nice river trip, the next six months of your working year are going to be a breeze and they are also, I would imagine to be some of the most productive and the most enjoyable six months that you could ever do. I think for a lot of people, once they do go on these trips and realize that and then they do then make it, at the very least, an annual thing. I think they just really have to go out there and do it.

The Benefits of River Adventures for kids:

MARK KALCH: 34:44 it’s definitely become hard, I think when I went off and did the Amazon, I had no kids. When I went off walked across Iran, my girlfriend was pregnant and now I’ve got three kids. Yeah… I’ve a son, he’s four and a half, my daughter … well he’s almost five, he’s coming up to five. My daughter is coming up three and a half and my youngest daughter is, she’s just seven months. So, certainly now for me to disappear for extended periods of time, for me personally by far the most difficult aspect of my journeys. When I paddled the Missouri Mississippi, I was away from home for probably, I guess five months and it was really tough being away from the kids for sure. You know, for sure when I get back they’ve grown a lot and the same on the Volga last year, I was gone for four months and I’m away from the kids again but the way I can, sort of rationalize it is that, when I am around, I’m pretty much around the kids full time. So, I see them when they wake up in the morning, I see them a lot through the day because I’m often working from home. I see them when they get home from school; I pick them up from school, so I’m around a lot. The way that I try and share what I do with them…you know is try to introduce them to the outdoors. At times it can be difficult, where we are now in Buenos Aires, which is this massive mega city but luckily Argentina as a country has some of the best outdoors and most amazing mountains and rivers in the entire world. So, in January we took off for a whole month, the whole family, the little baby, everyone. We spent a month camping down in Patagonia and I took my stand-up paddle board and it was really amazing, the kids, it just blew their minds, you know… they loved camping, they loved to have a fire. By day we would explore along these lakes and rivers. I’d take the kids out paddling, there is a good little clip of Josie, my daughter just laughing the entire time and you know.. it’s really special and again, I’ve got friends in the UK, who’s I guess their main activity is really brewing[37:10] and what that is, is championing or really pushing for children to be exposed to nature, to the outdoors, from a much younger age and also much more throughout their lives. You know… the kids end up in particularly city kids, or kids who live in urban environments, they end up in these classrooms and they end up in these shopping malls, TV’s and Xbox and these sorts of things and don’t really get to experience this side of things. And particularly, this month in Patagonia for me, you know, it really reinforced what benefits being close to nature for kids can be. Me as an adult, I get to do it all the time because I say yep, I’m going to go on and paddle this big river or today I’m going to paddle up my stand-up paddle board. But kids don’t really have, I guess the same sort of options unless the adults who are around them exposing them to it. So, I really hope that I can continue to expose my kids to it as well, because again being part of nature, being part of the outdoors. Just like it benefits us as adults it benefits the kids tenfold.

BILL MURPHY: 38:16 Yeah I think, that I can hear it in your voice is that you’re out on the mega expedition but you’re taking back a different message and applying it now to your own children. If you can get people out even for a week or two, in nature themselves, as adults they will remember what it was like as kids and bring it to their own kids.

MARK KALCH: 38:35 Oh for sure!  I’m actually.  I’m still, after the time I spend paddling across the US, you know I fell in love with Montana and I’m trying to figure out ways where I can spend extended periods of to spend more time in the US. In particular Montana, Idaho, Washington, Pacific North West and all those sorts of places. So, I keep a close eye on all the outdoors going on. I see a lot of organizations that really try hard to encourage adults and children to get outside. For example, in Montana the National Parks Services there, I’ve just seen the sort of the opportunities to go and visit these National Parks particularly in the US that you guys have and to me it just blows my mind, you know… to think off hand some of the world class or top of the class sort of National Parks that people in the US have access to, it just blows my mind and I so get jealous for what a lot of people have on their door steps. If they can just take a weekend, to go and visit, just for a weekend, you know…  I’m sure for so many people, not everyone maybe, I have friends who dig being inside but certainly I think for the vast majority of people if they can get this exposure to some of these places, in the US, Patagonia, in Russia as well, there is wild places in Russia, my gosh. Then certainly they can take away so many things from that you know, it just blows my mind. 

Volga River and the Russian People 

“In 2014 – I also made a solo descent of the longest river in Europe, which is the Volga River.  It’s about 2,300 miles long.  It took me 71 days.  I think that all these rivers that I’ve done so far have a special place in my mind, in my heart, but Volga was really interesting, perhaps because of the unexpected beauty of the river. 95 % of it, even maybe more, to the eye, is pristine beautiful river.  And the other unexpected thing was the people of Russia.  You know I grew up in Australia and with the Cold War and this sort of media stuff we are fed about Russia being a harsh, cold country, and obviously the people maybe as well. It was the exact opposite.  The only other country I think, for me anyway, that could compare with the generosity and the openness and the willingness to help of the Russian people would, funnily enough, be the people of Iran. In 2010 I actually walked across Iran from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf sorry that wasn’t on a river.  That was just on foot for two months. So Russia and The Volga was pretty special. So that leaves me with four still to go.  Not quite halfway but certainly it is a multi-year project and it’s something that I’ve really committed myself to now, so I’ve got to finish it now.”

How do You Deal with Voices Telling You to Quit?

MARK KALCH: 15:45 Yeah, you definitely get those as well. On the Amazon, the Upper Amazon, there’s white water, and I went through quite a few of those times.  And fortunately, at that time, there was three of us, I was in a team.  We’d reach these rapids that were really tough and really quite scary. But deep in these Canyons, there’s no villages there’s nothing around, and if there was a village, it’s probably a vertical kilometre above you, more or less.  And often you couldn’t even leave this canyon because it’s just too steep. Even if I would have decided to leave that would have left my two friends to take on these rapids, that I was afraid would kill me so it just wasn’t, I just wasn’t going to do that to my friends. So in some ways that was a fairly easy decision to make. I think when I’ve done my journeys on my own, the Volga, Missouri – Mississippi and as I mentioned walking across Iran, it would have been pretty easy to give up, you know, when it got hard and those thoughts do enter your head but I dunno,  I guess again, it’s a combination of things. Your mind does get a bit twisted as to the degree of difficulty that you’re going through, and the very next day you’re floating down the river, maybe it’s been raining or it’s been a storm and finally it’s lifted and you’ve got blue sky but the sun’s setting and you remind yourself, exactly where you are. You know… for example, I distinctly remember many times on the Volga River, maybe I’d just floated down past a big city like Volgograd, which used to be known as Stalingrad, you know these massive soviet cities and the sun’s setting and you know, I knew I was pretty confident of finding a really nice camp site.  And you just have to remind yourself that I’m just floating down this giant river in Russia and how fortunate I am to be there. So, it would just be a bit of a waste and a bit silly of me to say, okay it’s gotten a bit hard now, I’m going home. I think I guess I use certain ways to rationalise this thinking of giving up in a few different ways and of course there is also the other thing, you know… because I do this as my job, it’s not just my family and friends that know that I gave up, it’s a bit of a larger audience and if you are going to pull the plug on one of these trips, which can happen, then you better have a pretty good reason, you know and for me the only reason would be pretty serious injury, like extremely serious injury. You know, I know a lot of tough guys who have been injured on expedition and just push on so, I think of them as well. If they wouldn’t give up them I shouldn’t have to either. So yeah, it definitely enters your head but you find a few sort of different techniques to get around it.

What was it like to hike across Iran?

If you are fortunate enough to get a month long visa to Iran, at the time anyway, you could extend that visa twice up to ninety days and more or less I thought that was enough time to walk across Iran via the route I had planned, from the northern border to the south, to the Persian Gulf. So I got there and again, I was introduced to a few people who were all outdoors people, you know, mountaineers, they own mountain guiding businesses and things like that. Then I headed up to the Caspian Sea on the water there and just more or less headed south, first crossing the Alborz mountains, where Iran’s highest mountain is, which is a pretty big mountain. It’s over five thousand meters and I was actually there when there was a lot of snow around, which made it a bit interesting to cross those mountains, with a lot of snow but, you know, almost immediately when I began meeting people, the welcome couldn’t have been more friendly. In part that was just sort of how they meet everyone or greet everyone and secondly, I think they were just stoked that this guy had come here, well I guess to, one walk across Iran, which is a pretty strange thing to do for anyone, but two … you know.. a big part of me was to find out about the real Iran. I guess the same as you guys in the US, I grew up in a Australia and we were fed, I guess the same sort of media line as, I guess was fed to the UK and the US, you know, that Iran is this bad place and you know, it’s very anti-western and it could not be further from the truth. There are certain elements of course, in the government and in certain groups in Iran, which are fairly anti-west, to say the least, but as far as the majority, the vast majority of the population are super liberal. It just sort of makes me laugh that Australia, the UK and the US were allies with much, much more hard line regimes and countries for whatever political reasons, but for so many years were happy to call out Iran for being hard lined and as I said the majority of the population are not. People would meet me and they would say, “Where are you from?” And I’d say. “Australia”.  And they would say “Ah, my cousin owns a shop in Sydney” or “My uncle moved twenty years ago to California and I can’t wait to go and visit him.” There was no anti-western sort of sentiment, whatsoever, so at no time did I feel that the police or anything were sort of out to get me. I got stopped by the police all the time and all they did was bring me inside and feed me tea and biscuits.  That was about as harsh as it got. To be fair, I was there at the same time that the three US hikers were in the Ervin prison in Tehran. I’m not sure if you remember? They accidentally crossed over the border, from Iraq into Iran and they spent four hundred and something days, or at least the two boys did in the prison. So, people were a bit worried that something like that may happen to me, but I was fully, legitimately visa’d up and things like that. So, it was a really nice trip and a real eye opener as well… you know, to me now Iran is one of my favourite countries. The people and certainly the geography of it and I would love to go back and hopefully now with the progression that has been made with these nuclear talks, then you know, it will really open it up to more people, much more easily.

The Benefit of River Adventure for Busy Executives

I think often on these rivers you’re busy paddling and moaning your way through another tough day. When you finish and you’re sort of thrust back into the real world and it does gradually dawn on you; 1) what you’ve achieved and not even in a record breaking sense but you know, there has been the Missouri Mississippi, and it certainly sounds made up to me but as far as we know, I was the first person in history… it sounds ridiculous, to do a source to sea paddling descent of the Missouri Mississippi. Which, sounds strange so to me that is such a minor thing that I don’t even think about. So, far away from record breaker or anything like that but the enormity of what you have gone through on a personal, just starts to kick in. You know… once you are back in the real world, you think wow what now? Sort of thing. I’ve done this so what do I do next? It doesn’t mean that you are going to go on  and do maybe what I’ve gone on to do, to make it a really big part of my life.  But I think you can take these sort of experiences on a river and what you’ve gone through… and just sort of realise that you know, you can do whatever you want to do. You can achieve whatever you really want to achieve. I’m certainly not, personally, one of those guys that likes to equate or make a direct correlation between difficult expeditions and the boardroom. I’ve got plenty of friends that are really good at making that sort of connection but I’m definitely a huge believer in taking those experiences and I guess the emotions, whether it’s physical or psychological. Those sorts of things that you’ve gone through on a big or difficult journey and then applying them to other areas of your life for sure… you know.

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